Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Taxes Are What We Pay for Civilized Society.”

You will notice that I did not mention the issue of school funding in the title of this post. Neither did I mention the name of the state that is the subject of the post. While I cannot tell exactly who is reading this blog, WordPress statistics tell me which posts are viewed, and I know that school funding is a topic people don’t like to read about—especially if it is in somebody else’s state.

School funding is not a taboo subject, however, if the fight is happening in your state. If we are parents, we know that what’s at stake is a class size of 32 children for third grade, or the presence of a school nurse, or an elementary school library that is staffed and unlocked. We know that the number of college counselors at the high school and the presence of the marching band or the orchestra might be at stake. We also know what pay-to-play means in a school-specific context where fees to play football or run track are threatened if the school funding is reduced. This is all pretty much invisible to other people, however. Because schools are buildings most of us rarely enter, we cannot see how money translates directly into services for children.

I hope that introduction is enough to make you feel obligated to finish reading this post, because I believe it is about some of the most important concerns for our society.  Do we feel an obligation to help the children in our nuclear family succeed or do we have an obligation to all children and the role of their education for our broader society? Do we somehow really believe that education is a competitive, zero sum game and that if other children win, our own children will lose? Are we willing to spend some of what we have earned to support the institutions of our community and our state?  Is cutting taxes more important than anything else?  Do we really believe deep in our hearts: “I earned it so I should get to keep it!”?

This post is—yet again—about Kansas. Kansas matters because what Kansas does about its tax cuts and its state budget and its school funding is really about the issues in many states. And what’s the matter with Kansas is also the problem in our Congressional debate about the Affordable Care Act and the impact of Congressional freezes like the Sequester on the federal budget.

You’ll remember that Governor Sam Brownback just vetoed a state budget that would have increased taxes to raise $1 billion over the next two years to help remedy years of budget shortfalls that have resulted from his income tax cuts in 2012 and 2013.  Brownback has dreamed that his experiment in income tax slashing would grow the state’s economy, but economic growth has not followed.

You may remember that a school funding inequity decision from the Kansas Supreme Court last year sent some additional money to Kansas’ poorest school districts. You may also remember that a school funding adequacy case, Gannon v. State of Kansas, has been making its way through the courts.

You may have forgotten that the anti-taxers in Kansas have been so desperate to save money they first tried (unsuccessfully) to pass a constitutional amendment to make school funding solely a legislative matter over which the courts had no jurisdiction. When that failed, and because court justices face retention elections every six years in Kansas, money was spent on campaigns to defeat four of the justices who have supported increased funding for public education. But all the justices targeted by the anti-taxers were reelected last November.  And a sizeable number of moderates who are not so committed to tax slashing were also elected to the state’s legislature in November.

All this led up to what happened on March 2, when the Supreme Court in Kansas announced a decision in Gannon v. State of Kansas. Here is John Hanna of the Associated Press: “Kansas’ highest court on Thursday ordered the state to increase its spending on public schools, which could further complicate the state’s dire budget problems and increase pressure to undo large tax cuts championed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.  The unanimous state Supreme Court ruling gave the Republican-controlled Legislature until the end of June to to enact a new school funding law.”  Hanna explains: “Many moderate Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature favor rolling back the large income tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013, which the conservative governor pushed as a way to stimulate the economy.  The state has struggled to balance its budget ever since, and even some Republican voters have come to view the tax cuts as a failure.”

The Gannon lawsuit was brought by four school districts, Wichita, Hutchinson, Kansas City and Dodge City, but last week’s Supreme Court’s decision demands increased school funding across the state.  The Wichita Eagle outlines the implications of the decision: “It gave lawmakers until June 30 to craft a new school finance formula that meets constitutional funding requirements. If they don’t, the state will have no constitutional mechanism for funding schools, which could lead to school closures. The court ruled unanimously that Gov. Sam Brownback’s ‘block grant’ funding system for schools is unconstitutional, siding with school districts that complained it underfunded their operations.”

School funding is an important piece of the state budget because in Kansas, according to Hanna, “The state spends more than half of its tax dollars on public schools.” Some allege, of course, that the fact that public schools make up large percentages of all state budgets is a symptom of our society’s overindulgence in elegant public schools at the public expense. President Donald Trump made such an allegation in his inaugural address when he declared that public schools are “flush with cash.” The reality, of course, is that schools cannot substitute cheaper robots and computers and create the climate of caring and trust our children need.  Public schools employ  professional teachers and counselors because that is what our society must expect for our children.  This is an expensive proposition when it comes to serving 50 million children across the United States.

In Kansas, the Wichita Eagle quotes Alan Rupe, the plaintiffs’ attorney, who commented that last week’s decision should not surprise anybody: “The Kansas Supreme Court has finally confirmed what anyone who has recently stepped inside a Kansas public school already knew: Kansas public education is significantly underfunded.”

And Wichita’s state senator, Lynn Rogers, who also serves on the Wichita Board of Education, declared: This is 10 years coming, and the state has lost every case so far… We’ve lost a whole generation of kids with inadequate funding, and hopefully this will communicate to the state how important it is not to lose a single kid, and that we need to do better than what we’ve done.”

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School Funding, Residual Budgeting, and Kansas

If you live in Ohio, and if you were paying attention during the 1990s, the decade of decisions and appeals of the DeRolph school funding case, you understand the concept of residual budgeting.  School funding in Ohio, the plaintiff’s attorneys explained again and again, is a mere budgetary residual. The legislators calculate the pot of tax money available this year; then they look at what they spent on education last year; then they divide available revenue  up across all the functions of government including education—usually making sure they don’t spend too much less on education than last year unless there is a budgetary emergency.  Any year’s state budget allocation doesn’t necessarily reflect what services are really needed, nor does it demonstrate an investigation of what different programs cost. In fact, because last year’s funding is usually the baseline, and because last year’s funding was likely way too low, the school funding formula is likely over time to become way out of kilter relative to the rising cost of services.  Although legislators may allocate something extra to support school districts serving a lot of children in poverty, nobody ever really measures what it would take to make our poorest rural and urban schools operate as schools do in wealthy communities.

At the federal level, the most visible case of residual budgeting is for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  When Congress passed the IDEA in 1975, Congress said the federal government would pay 40 percent of the costs, but in 2014, Congress paid for only 16 percent. Local school districts are simply expected to pick up the expenses of what is known to be a huge unfunded mandate.  Similarly, Title I was created in 1965 as the centerpiece of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to assist schools serving a large number or high concentration of children in poverty, but Title I has never been funded at a level to support the education of all the children who qualify. Neither has it sufficiently compensated for school funding inequity across the states.

In the 1990s, the problem of residual budgeting at the federal level was compounded by outcomes-based demands for accountability.  David Cohen and Susan Moffitt, in their book The Ordeal of Equality, describe how the 1994 and 2001 reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act failed.  These two reauthorizations incorporated an outcomes-based strategy, “profoundly at odds with the unequal conditions of education in the United States.  Neither policy was paired with policies that supported improved employment, better health care, and early education, nor did either make a substantial effort to reduce unequal educational resources among schools within districts, among districts within states, or among states. The two bills addressed public education as though schools could dramatically change their operations quite in isolation from the political, social, and economic sources of educational problems.” (The Ordeal of Equality, p. 191)

The Every Student Succeeds Act, the recent, 2015 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, represents the same sort of denial. In the new law, Congress failed to expand Title I, despite that its own 2013, Equity and Excellence Commission had concluded: “The common situation in America is that schools in poor communities spend less per pupil—and often many thousands of dollars less per pupil—than schools in nearby affluent communities, meaning poor schools can’t compete for the best teaching and principal talent in a local labor market and can’t implement the high-end technology and rigorous academic and enrichment programs needed to enhance student performance. This is arguably the most important equity-related variable in American schooling today. Let’s be honest: We are also an outlier in how many of our children are growing up in poverty… We are also an outlier in how we concentrate those children, isolating them in certain schools—often resource-starved schools—which only magnifies poverty’s impact and makes high achievement that much harder.”

There have been efforts by school finance experts and advocates to get Congress and  legislative bodies across the states to measure equity according to the actual cost of services. The plaintiffs in Ohio’s DeRolph school funding case called expert witnesses who defined a Basket of Essential Learning Resources for the 21st Century (scroll down the left side in the link to find the document). Experts call this an “inputs” approach and urge states to conduct “costing-out studies” to identify what schools must pay for the services they are expected to provide.  Legislators, on the other hand, have preferred an “outcomes” approach that instead measures test scores “produced” by school districts; they have liked to pretend there is no real connection between inputs and outcomes.  The reality, of course, is that because neither the federal government nor most of the states are willing to generate enough tax dollars to cover what would be the real costs, everybody seems to prefer the denial afforded by residual budgeting.  If a formula sends more state dollars to very poor school districts, surely that will improve the test scores, even if that amount can be proven to be inadequate.

This year’s poster child for residual budgeting and a school funding system way out of whack is Kansas, the victim of Governor Sam Brownback’s efforts to reduce the size of the state’s government through tax slashing. We are reminded by a 2014 piece in the NY Times that,  “Kansas’ current constitutional crisis has its genesis in a series of cuts to school funding that began in 2009. The cuts were accelerated by a $1.1 billion tax break, which benefited mostly upper-income Kansans, proposed by Governor Brownback and enacted in 2012.”  The newest report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains: “Another state that has imposed deep funding cuts—Kansas—eliminated its funding formula this year (2015), making impossible direct comparisons to earlier years.  Formula funding in Kansas was down 14.6 percent per student between 2008 and 2014, after adjusting for inflation.”

Last week the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the trial court decision in Gannon v. State of Kansas, and found the state’s current funding system unconstitutional.  According to the Education Law Center: “In its decision, the Court explained that Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution requires the legislature to ‘make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state…’ Article 6 contains both adequacy and equity requirements.  It necessitates that the legislature provide enough funds to ensure public school students receive a constitutionally adequate education and that the funds’ distribution does not result in unreasonable wealth-based disparities among districts.”  The Education Law Center continues: “The Court had found an earlier funding system inequitable, and the legislature revised the system and brought it into compliance with the Constitution during its 2014 session.  However, in its 2015 session the legislature reversed itself, and the Gannon plaintiffs returned to the Kansas courts, arguing that the funding system had become unfair (inequitable) and therefore unconstitutional again.”  This time the Kansas Supreme Court says it will shut down the state’s schools if the legislature and governor neglect to find enough money by June 30 to fund schools adequately and to address inequity.

The NY Times reports, “The decision is the latest blow to Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, and the state Legislature, which will probably have to find tens of millions of dollars in its budget for additional education funding. Kansas is already facing deep fiscal woes in the wake of Mr. Brownback’s decision to cut taxes, which he predicted would help bolster the state economy.  Revenue has fallen short of projections and he and lawmakers are scrambling to fill a roughly $200 million gap before the close of the session.”  As Kansas has discovered, when the size of the state budget pie becomes very small, residual budgeting—making all the pieces of the pie smaller without considering the real price of the services that need to be provided—reduces the state’s allocation for education far below the actual cost of essential programs for children.

Linda Darling-Hammond, the Stanford University professor and education researcher, “wonders what we might accomplish as a nation if we could finally set aside what appears to be our de facto commitment to inequality, so profoundly at odds with our rhetoric of equity, and put the millions of dollars spent continually arguing and litigating into building a high-quality education system for all children.” (The Flat World and Education, p. 164)

The Koch Brothers Are Part of What’s the Matter with Kansas

Since when does school funding legislation have to come with a quid pro quo legislative tidbit for the Koch Brothers?

Here is some background for what happened in Kansas last weekend.  The legislature had been warned by the state’s supreme court that the state’s school funding had slipped far from parity.  The Court gave the legislature until July 1 to allocate more state money to the poorest school districts in Kansas.  After all, one of the primary functions of a state school finance formula is to produce at least some movement toward equity—to ensure that funding in property-poor school districts doesn’t fall so far that poor children are denied basic services.

The formulas are rarely generous, which is why Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond pointed out that in 2010, the ratio of spending between property rich and property poor school districts was over 3:1.  Darling-Hammond wondered, “what we might accomplish as a nation if we could finally set aside what appears to be our de facto commitment to inequality, so profoundly at odds with our rhetoric of equity, and put the millions of dollars spent continually arguing and litigating into building a high-quality education system for all children.” (The Flat World and Education, p. 164)

Today in Kansas, they are still arguing and fighting, and it’s not just in Kansas.  In the four years since Darling-Hammond published her book, the rhetoric across our states has retreated from the idea of equity.  Today we talk about school choice (privatization) and we punish teachers, which is what the Kansas legislature just did as a condition for raising the state’s distribution of funding to poor school districts to the bare minimum.

At issue in Gannon v. State of Kansas was a 16.5 percent cut in Kansas education funding since 2008, “accelerated” according to a recent op ed in the NY Times, “by a $1.1 billion tax break, which benefited mostly upper-income Kansans, proposed by Governor Brownback and enacted in 2012.”  Just over a year ago, a trial court found for the parent-plaintiffs, declaring that cuts to school funding reduced per-pupil expenditures far below a level suitable to educate children under the requirements of the state constitution of Kansas.  The case was appealed by the state, and the Kansas Supreme Court released its finding, for the plaintiffs and against the state, on Friday, March 7.

Last weekend the legislature responded to the court.  Brad Cooper reports for the Kansas City Star that late on Sunday night, “The House and Senate passed a bill that spends $126 million to bridge wealth-based disparities in the school funding formula,” and, according to Cooper, “strips teachers of due process rights and promotes school choice.”

Basically the bill eliminates the tenure protections public school teachers in Kansas earn at the end of three years.  In Kansas, what it will mean for teachers to lose job protections is described by John Hanna for the Associated Press:  “Starting in July, teachers who’ve been in classrooms three years or longer but face dismissal would lose the right to have their cases heard and decided by independent hearing officers….”

The new school funding law also promotes privatization by setting up tuition tax-credits.  According to Cooper in the Kansas City Star, “The reforms would foster school choice by allowing corporations to receive tax credits for contributions to scholarship funds so children with special needs or who come from low-income households could attend private school.”  Tuition tax-credits are really just another form of private school vouchers.

There is widespread agreement that the anti-teachers union provision and the tax credits were added to the bill by legislators supported by the Koch Brothers through Americans for Prosperity.  Cooper writes, “Urged on by conservative special interests such as Americans for Prosperity, Republican leaders pressed hard to eliminate due process rights for teachers.”

Jeff Glendening, the director of the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity was quoted—framing the legislation as part of a fight between those who stand for children and those who stand for “adult” interests—by the NY Times : “We appreciate the willingness of the Legislature to place the interests of Kansas children over the welfare of the teachers’ union.”  This kind of rhetoric is widely promoted by far-right groups such as StudentsFirst and Stand for Children. These groups try to imply that teachers, who have committed their lives to nurture children, are somehow a class of people working purely out of self interest.  The rhetoric also fails to acknowledge that public school due process merely grants teachers the right to a hearing. Under the law passed over the weekend, in Kansas teachers can now be fired at will.

Scapegoating school teachers and promoting vouchers are at the core of the far-right attack on public education.  In states like Kansas where austerity budgeting has become the norm, attacks on teachers unions have become a regular part of a national movement to reduce government expenditures and have education on the cheap.  If teachers can be fired at will, it is possible to eliminate the more expensive, experienced teachers, cut costs, and reduce taxes. Tuition tax-credits promote privatization.

Protecting Ourselves from the Vagaries and Blindness of Our Politics

At the end of last week, the Education Law Center sent out an excellent and lucid summary of the significance of the recent state supreme court decision on Kansas school finance, Gannon v. State of Kansas.  I urge you to read it, for it explains the issues in the clearest possible way.  Make no mistake, adequate school funding (How much is enough?) and equitable distribution of school funding are very likely pertinent matters in your state, too.  After all, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 34 states are spending less on public education than they did in 2007 prior to the Great Recession.  Some of this is due to ongoing economic troubles; much of it relates to the politics of austerity budgeting.

The Kansas court spoke to another matter, however, that I had never considered worrying about: are issues of school funding justiciable—subject to judicial review?   In its description of the case, the NY Times elaborated: “The court rejected the contention that it lacked the authority to make decisions on school funding, saying that it has the duty to determine whether legislative acts comply with the Kansas Constitution. ‘The judiciary is not at liberty to surrender, ignore or waive this duty,’ the decision said.”

Remembering my civics class lesson about the checks and balances provided by the three branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial—I had never considered the possibility of losing the protection provided by court oversight, but now I learn this might be in question.  The Education Law Center reports that in Kansas, defending itself against the parents who brought the case to protest deep cuts in the funding of Kansas’ public schools, “the state argued that the legislature had the sole decision making authority over school funding.” However, in its decision the state’s supreme court decided otherwise, explaining “that the Kansas Constitution assigns to the judiciary the duty and responsibility to interpret the constitution and determine whether acts of the legislature violate it.”

Because of secretive political organizations that reach out to push the same menu of far-right policies to state legislators across the 50 state governments— organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the State Policy Network of extremely conservative think-tanks—today we are watching as the same policy proposals pop up again and again from state to state—right to work, tax cutting and austerity budgeting, school vouchers, grading schools A-F, and so on.

One reason that the justiciability of school funding caught my eye in the Kansas case is that the same issue has suddenly emerged in my own state.  I recently received an update from Bill Phillis at the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding about my state’s “Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission” which Phillis reports is currently, “in the process of formulating recommendations for changes in the Ohio Constitution.”  One of the provisions this commission is said to be considering is “removing the courts from any decision related to school funding.”

I can certainly imagine why some of Ohio’s politicians would wish to remove the huge fiscal responsibility for funding schools from the court’s protection at this time when the legislature has perpetually cut taxes with the dream (unsuccessful so far) of luring businesses to Ohio.  Recently the Plain Dealer published a 30-year history of Ohio tax cutting:  “In 1985, legislators…  cut the income tax by 15 percent over three years.  Effective in 1987, they cut the income tax again.  In 1996, they created a mechanism to cut the income tax when Ohio runs a surplus.  In 1997, they indexed the personal exemption to inflation; and in 2005, they cut the income tax by 21 percent over five years.  What’s more, Ohio’s current budget, signed by Kasich last June, cuts the income tax by 10 percent over three years.”  Last month Governor John Kasich proposed another cut in the income tax.

Our state constitutions enshrine the lofty principles our forebears sought to protect.  The Education Law Center quotes the March 7, 2014  decision in Gannon v. State of Kansas: “Matters intended for permanence are placed in constitutions for a reason—to protect them from the vagaries of politics….”   Today we live in a time when the very idea of public education is endangered through de-funding and privatizing schools, and scapegoating school teachers.  Are we too close to our politics today to even realize these are the threats from which our founding documents were meant to protect us?

Kansas Supreme Court Rejects Education on the Cheap; Affirms Equity and Adequacy

I have been reading the introduction and many of the short essays that make up David Berliner and Gene Glass’s new book, 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools.  Many of the myths Berliner and Glass explore are about educating on the cheap.  The book has driven me to reflect on why we are so eager to go for the “low taxes” argument these days.

Have we lost our sense of common purpose and public obligation?  Have we retreated so far into our gated communities, become so blinded by privilege and inequality that we’ve forgotten the needs of other people’s children?  Or maybe it’s because we see the children in public schools as other people’s children.  Or we believe the myth that money really doesn’t affect school achievement. Do we think breaking the unions or going for two-year teachers trained in five-week crash courses will suffice, because schools will be less expensive if the teachers are cheaper?  Maybe we are in awe of technology and believe those who tell us we can save money by cutting the number of teachers in half if we double the number of computers or tablets.  Or maybe in a consumer society that worships celebrity and glitterati, we’d just rather spend taxes on sports stadiums.  And anyway, children are resilient.

Such thoughts were my personal context for receiving the good news about Friday’s very important Kansas Supreme Court decision on school funding.  At issue in Gannon v. State of Kansas was a 16.5 percent cut in Kansas education funding since 2008, “accelerated” according to a recent op ed in the NY Times, “by a $1.1 billion tax break, which benefited mostly upper-income Kansans, proposed by Governor Brownback and enacted in 2012.”  Just over a year ago, a trial court found for the parent-plaintiffs, declaring that cuts to school funding reduced per-pupil expenditures far below a level suitable to educate children under the requirements of the state constitution of Kansas.  The case was appealed by the state, and the Kansas Supreme Court released its finding last Friday, March 7.

The Education Law Center explains the significance of Friday’s decision by which the Kansas Supreme Court “upheld the right of Kansas students to educational opportunity and reaffirmed the court’s… pivotal role in upholding the Kansas Constitution.” The NY Times elaborates: “The court rejected the contention that it lacked the authority to make decisions on school funding, saying that it has the duty to determine whether legislative acts comply with the Kansas Constitution. ‘The judiciary is not at liberty to surrender, ignore or waive this duty,’ the decision said.”

The Education Law Center explains that the court upheld the principal of equity by reiterating “the Kansas requirement that all ‘school districts must have reasonably equal access to substantially similar educational opportunity through similar tax effort.'”   According to the NY Times, in its decision last Friday, the Court ordered the legislature by July 1 to, “appropriate tens of millions of dollars in payments to poorer districts to make the school system more equitable.”

Also at issue in this case was the definition of adequate state school funding.  The Court reiterated the need for the state to raise the level of school funding to provide a quality education for the children of Kansas, but it sent this part of the case back to the lower court to reconsider how much is enough and to give plaintiffs the opportunity to present more evidence.  There is considerable speculation that Kansas will need to raise taxes to meet the requirement for equity and eventually to bring school funding to a level deemed adequate.

A publication called The Wire comments on how the decision conflicts with Governor Brownback’s agenda:  “The decision is probably not so great news for Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s ambitions to lead an ‘American Renaissance’ by making his state a model for lowering taxes and reducing government.  Brownback outlined his vision in January during his State of the State speech, where the conservative added that he believed Kansas’s governing strategy would allow people to ‘realize their God-given potential’ and that ‘our dependence is not on Big Government but on a Big God that loves us and lives within us.'”

Of course Kansas’s school funding decision will affect only Kansas.  It would be nice to think that its subject—education on the cheap—is a problem only for Kansas, but that’s just not true.  Cuts to education funding in Kansas are a lot like what’s been happening in my state, Ohio, where two weeks ago the Plain Dealer published a 30-year history of Ohio tax cutting:  “In 1985, legislators…  cut the income tax by 15 percent over three years.  Effective in 1987, they cut the income tax again.  In 1996, they created a mechanism to cut the income tax when Ohio runs a surplus.  In 1997, they indexed the personal exemption to inflation; and in 2005, they cut the income tax by 21 percent over five years.  What’s more, Ohio’s current budget, signed by Kasich last June, cuts the income tax by 10 percent over three years.”  It should not be surprising that Ohio school districts are more and more dependent on their capacity to raise local revenue and that tuition has risen steadily at all of our state universities.

Paying for education is also a hot topic in New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo refuses even to let New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio move forward with his plan to tax people in the city with incomes over $500,000 annually to pay for universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programs for students in middle school. Governor Cuomo is running for re-election, and a statewide tax cut is to be the centerpiece of his campaign.

Experts Defend Children’s Right to Adequate and Equitable School Funding in Kansas

David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center and Wade Henderson, the president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, have co-authored a chilling opinion piece in this morning’s NY Times.  In What’s the Matter with Kansas’ Schools?, Sciarra and Henderson describe Gannon v. State of Kansas, the school funding case awaiting a decision of the Kansas Supreme Court.

The Gannon case was brought by parents protesting a 16.5 percent cut  in Kansas’ education funding since 2008.  Sciarra and Henderson explain: “The cuts were accelerated by a $1.1 billion tax break, which benefited mostly upper-income Kansans, proposed by Governor Brownback and enacted in 2012.”  “A three-judge trial court ruled in January 2013 for the parents, finding that the cuts reduced per-pupil expenditures far below a level ‘suitable’ to educate all children under Kansas’ standards.”

Governor Sam Brownback and the legislature are unrepentant.  In the event that the Supreme Court upholds the decision of the lower court, law makers have threatened to amend the state constitution to remove the requirement for “suitable” funding, which would “strip Kansas courts of jurisdiction to hear school finance cases altogether.”  If that amendment were to fail, they say they would defy any court order to increase school funding.  I have blogged previously about this case here.

Sciarra and Henderson defend the right of “children who, as a last resort, seek legal redress to vindicate their fundamental right to an education.”  The courts, intended to provide checks and balances, are particularly important to protect funding for education in these tax-cutting times when so many states, like Kansas (and Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin along with several more) have conservative Republican majorities in their statehouses along with a far-right Republican governor.

One thinks of the prophetic words of the late Senator Paul Wellstone: “That all citizens will be given an equal start through a sound education is one of the most basic, promised rights of our democracy. Our chronic refusal as a nation to guarantee that right for all children…. is rooted in a kind of moral blindness, or at least a failure of moral imagination…. It is a failure which threatens our future as a nation of citizens called to a common purpose… tied to one another by a common bond.”